The Not-So-Empty Nest

Everyone loves to go home again when that home is a fabulous place at the lake

Barbara Cosgrove and her husband, Hal, have had a second home at Lake Lotawana for the better part of 35 years. “My husband really wanted to move out here and finally, about a year and a half ago I said, ‘Fine. Let’s do it,’” Barbara Cosgrove says.

The couple put their Mission Hills home and their lake house on the market at the same time, thinking it would take a while for each to sell. “Then they both sold quickly and we had to move.” They rented an apartment and found a house at the lake that needed some, let’s say, attention. “It was a dump,” says Cosgrove. “My kids kept saying that I was exaggerating, but when they finally saw it they pulled the contractor aside and said, ‘Really? Are you sure?’”

But Cosgrove was sure. She could see that the back of the house, which provided views of the lake largely through windows, could be opened up with French doors and that light would flood the space.


Nickel pendant lanterns lead from the foyer to French doors overlooking the lake.


One wall in the foyer is papered with a blow-up of a vintage Lake Lotawana map.
One wall in the foyer is papered with a blow-up of a vintage Lake Lotawana map.


A windowed niche just off the kitchen holds an expansive dining table that can fit the whole family.


They knew what they wanted. “I wanted an open kitchen and a place to hang out and watch TV. A living room,” says Cosgrove, owner of Barbara Cosgrove Lighting + Lifestyle, a nationally known lighting and accessories manufacturer located in Kansas City. This space—this living room—needed to accommodate their entire family. The same was true for sleeping arrangements. They wanted three bedrooms, each with baths, for themselves and their two children and their spouses, and a bunk room for their grandchildren.

“I told my family that I would take on this project, but they had to stay out of it. I let the children put something on the wish list. “A.J.,” Cosgrove’s daughter-in-law, who works with her at Barbara Cosgrove Lamps, “was the only one who got what she wanted.” Her request? “Blackout lining in the bedrooms.”


A Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams sofa is the center of family life. The zebra patterned chair is by Arte de Mexico.


Still, no one is disappointed.  The French doors have done the trick, and the views and the light are inviting. A high, vaulted ceiling in the living room gives the space plenty of room to breathe, even with a crowd. A dramatic wall of shelves above the kitchen cabinets creates an arresting focal point. “I didn’t know what I was going to put up there when we planned it,” she says. “But I think you just have to want a house to be yours. You don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like when it’s finished, but if you did, what would be the point?”

For that wall and the rest of house, Cosgrove has relied on color to make it her own. “I wasn’t interested in using expensive materials—everything is pretty basic. I knew color would be the ‘wow’ factor.” To this end, Cosgrove relied on backgrounds in white and varying shades of gray with shots of strong color: red, yellow, navy and orange.


A Barbara Cosgrove silver teardrop lamp sits atop a leather tray table that serves as a nightstand.


The bedroom wing of the house required less renovation. A few moved walls and rethinking of space allowed for the sleeping quarters Cosgrove envisioned. Their bedroom and their adult children’s all have views of the lake and deck access as well as their own full baths. Cosgrove designed the bunk room’s built-in bunk beds with trundles, so the room sleeps six.


The bunk beds in the boys’ bedroom were designed by Cosgrove and custom-built by the contractor. Note that the steps up to the top bunks do double-duty as storage, and trundle beds for overnight guests pull out below.


Throughout the house, Cosgrove has used antiques to provide practical solutions of form and function. The base of the large island in the kitchen is an old drafting table. “We were on our way to one of our grandchildren’s soccer games and I saw it in a yard sale as we drove by. We were running late, but I yelled, “Stop!” We ended up topping it with an old door and then our contractor created this glass piece to fit on top.”

Cosgrove has also used old beds and a dresser, and in addition has put old cupboards into service in the bathrooms. They hold towels and toothbrushes and infinitely more charm than more rows of cabinets would have.


In the powder room, the mirror, from an early Barbara Cosgrove collection, was based on a Chippendale design.


The antique doors from Corsica, outfitted with mirrors that reflect the lake, make a dramatic statement in the front hall. “I kept telling my friends that I wanted a ‘holy cow!’ entry. After I hung the artwork,”—Cosgrove’s own bovine portraits—“they said, ‘You weren’t kidding.’” There’s no question that the combination of each of the elements has combined to create just what Cosgrove was after: a uniquely personal space.


Beadboard paneling and sleek Kohler sinks contrast with the elaborately framed gloss-white mirrors in the boys’ bathroom.

Photographed by Aaron Leimkuehler





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